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by Kate Kooyman
Did you happen to listen to the episode of The Daily podcast that told the story of Shannon Mulcahy, a single mother of two whose job at a factory moved to Mexico?
I can’t stop thinking about it.
Shannon Mulcahy was one of the only women who worked in the factory. And she loved her job. She knew her machines like she knew her family — their quirks, their needs, their sounds, their temperaments. She was an expert, her work an art.
At one point in the episode, she is one of the few workers who has agreed to do the unthinkable: to receive her small severance, she must train her replacement, a young man from Mexico who is in town to learn his new job. She describes the moment he realizes what his bright future is going to mean for Shannon — and it breaks your heart. He’s a person to her; she wants the best for him. And she is suffering deeply, because the thing that she alone knew, the unique contribution she was making to the world, was now in his incapable hands.
I was so struck by this, because I thought it would be a story about the disappearing middle class and its struggle to make ends meet. I thought it would be about drudgery and wages. About surviving. But Shannon Mulcahy’s story was about identity, meaning, and humanization. It was about living.
Listening to that podcast was a surprisingly spiritual experience for me, because somehow I recognized something divine in Shannon Mulcahy, that factory worker from Indiana. I recognized it when she talked about those machines — nobody could do what she could do. We are deeply human — the image of our creator — when we are contributing something unique to the world.
I recognized it in her determination to humanize the new worker she was compelled to train — “a good kid,” she called him, though he may never know, may never love the job that had both sustained and identified her. We are deeply human — the image of our creator — when we love selflessly.
And I recognized it in her forgiveness. We are deeply human — the image of our creator — when we extend a costly grace. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
There’s a line in a Wendell Berry poem:
“And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
Oh, God. I long to see you. Often.
And you’re everywhere.